Ayeyarwady River and Myanmar Economy | WWF
Ayeyarwady River and Myanmar Economy

Posted on 24 May 2018

WWF report on risks and opportunities from perspective of people living and working in the basin
Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River is both unique and special. It is one of the largest free-flowing rivers in Southeast Asia. There is just one other river with this title, the Thanlwin or Salween River, which also traverses Myanmar’s undulating landscapes.

Although the river is “free-flowing”, it is not pristine. The Ayeyarwady is the engine of the Myanmar economy. It feeds the country’s population with fish and rice, and enables goods to be transported to people up and down the river. Its waters are used to power turbines for electricity, while sand from its basin is a key component for infrastructure like houses, offices and roads.

This document attempts to identify different ways that the Ayeyarwady River is important to both Myanmar’s economy and society. It also aims to highlight the importance of balanced development that will ensure the naturally functioning systems within the river continue to support growth and development, as they have for hundreds of years. It is a culmination of perspectives and inputs from stakeholders along the river regarding their perceived risks and opportunities.

The document shows that it is evident that the Ayeyarwady Basin provides the majority of economic value to the country. It is also evident that some of these sectors are contributing to degradation of ecosystem goods and services provided by the river. Although economic growth and social development are needed in Myanmar, this does not have to be at the cost of the river health.

WWF care about people and nature being able to thrive alongside each other. This is what we believe in Myanmar too. We would like to support economic and social growth in Myanmar without jeopardizing the integrity of the rivers. The Ayeyarwady River provides goods and services to enable a majority of economic and social activities that take place within Myanmar. Without these services of the river, the economy of Myanmar would not be the same. With looming decisions around hydropower development, industrial expansion, fisheries and in general, economic growth in the country, decision-makers cannot afford to operate in isolation. Without a common vision for the future, all sectors will compete with one another and miss opportunities for holistic efficient development. Highlighting major risks and opportunities for different sectors through a series of short narratives and numbers, shows what is at stake when taking a narrow view of planning – and all that can be gained through a more thoughtful, long-term and integrated approach.

Our call to action for a sustainable, free-flowing Ayeyarwady Basin is as follows: 

Economic planning decision makers need to investigate the connections and trade-offs between different development pathways and how they interact with the natural capital and ecosystem services that the people of Myanmar depend on. 
 
Private sector need to ensure that they act as good water stewards in the country, even though in some cases there is uncertainty in terms of regulations. Reducing water-related risks, whether physical, regulatory or reputational in the broader Ayeyarwady Basin is critical for their long-term business ambitions. 
 
Civil society need to continue their demand for transparent dialogue between decision-makers, private sector and civil society regarding preferable options for sustainable development in the Ayeyarwady Basin. 

Finally, the coordination of strategies and plans is of critical importance as Myanmar continues on its economic growth and social development trajectory. This is true not only for the Government of Myanmar, but also for development assistance in the country. River basin planning in particular has an important role to play in supporting the coordination of an entire spectrum of economic activities – from mining to tourism and from the upper catchment to the delta. It is important that this planning takes place in a coordinated manner to ensure that the unique position of the Ayeyarwady River, home to the endemic Irrawaddy Dolphin, productive fisheries, industry and mining is able to continue providing the basis of the Myanmar economy. 
Fisherman in the Ayeyarwady river
© WWF Myanmar
The Ayeyarwady River and the Economy of Myanmar Brochure
© WWF Myanmar
Workers unload cement from a boat on the Ayeyarwady river
© WWF-US / Lee Poston
A man bathes in the Ayeyarwady river in Myanmar
© Stephen Kelly / WWF-US